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Agent is fined £80,000 over HMO failures discovered after blaze in attic

A letting agent has been fined £80,000 for HMO failures after a fire at one of the properties.

Orange Living, trading as Loc8me, had failed to license four HMOs, an investigation by council officials in Leicestershire revealed.

The investigation by Charnwood Borough Council was triggered by a fire in the attic of one of the homes managed by Loc8me in Loughborough.

All four properties were shared and had three storeys.

At Leicester Magistrates Court, the firm admitted four offences and was fined £20,000 for each. It was also ordered to pay costs of £3,690.

The attic blaze was attended by firefighters who found that the smoke detector had batteries missing, and that there were insufficient fire doors.

One of the occupants said they had emailed Loc8me’s maintenance team twice before the fire with concerns, but no one came.

There were no phone numbers for Loc8me displayed in the property, with tenants having to rely on email or a WhatsApp group.

Applications for HMO licences had been received by the local council, but had information missing, and so the properties went unlicensed.

Raffaele Russo, one of the directors of Orange Living Ltd, was interviewed by council officers and he confirmed that none of the four properties had a licence.

He stated that the lack of HMO licensing was a clerical error.

Russo said the fire alarms had been tested on a number of occasions.

With regard to failure to provide name, address and telephone number in a prominent position in the HMO, Russo did not know whether emergency contact details were displayed in the property. He said that tenants used a WhatsApp group.

During the court hearing, Russo accepted that there should have been mains-connected smoke alarms on an interconnected circuit and fire doors where needed.

After the hearing, Cllr Margaret Smidowicz, the council’s lead member for licensing, said it was a significant sentence and that she was pleased the courts had taken the matter seriously.

She said: “Licensing is there to ensure living and safety standards are met, and we will not hesitate to take action and use the full force of the law to make sure those standards are being met.”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Landlord of dangerous HMO where foreign tenants spoke little English hit with huge fine

A landlord has been found guilty and fined £40,000 for letting out a dangerous and unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation.

It is the second largest fine levied against a landlord obtained by City of Lincoln Council.

Julie Churchill’s property was deemed dangerous by the magistrates for failing to comply with a number of safety breaches under the Housing Act 2004.

It had no fire doors to the bedrooms, ground floor lounge or kitchen, no working fire alarms on the ground floor, and one of the bedroom doors had a large gap to the top which would allow smoke to pass in the event of a fire.

Three of the bedroom doors could be locked by a padlock which if in use would not allow for a quick exit.

The court heard that if a fire had erupted in this building, these inadequate fire warning systems and lack of fire containment measures would have put the tenants at extreme risk.

The stairs were painted gloss black and had no slip resistance in the event of a tenant falling, and the kitchen did not have adequatefacilities for the seven tenants living in the property. One of the occupied bedrooms was below the legal minimum size for an adult.

It was heard in court that the repair of these defects would have cost Churchill as little as £6,000.

When the four-bedroom property was inspected by police and housing officers under a magistrates’ court warrant in January, the occupants were found to be seven unrelated eastern European and sub-Saharan immigrants in four bedrooms.

The tenants spoke little English and were unaware of their rights, receiving no tenancy agreement, rent book or rent receipt during their tenancy. Only two of the seven tenants knew what the landlord’s name was.

It was discovered that Churchill was taking up to £1,480 per month in rent, which at that rate would give her an income of approximately £35,520 over the two years she had owned the property.

Cllr Donald Nannestad, portfolio holder for quality housing at City of Lincoln Council, said: “We’re extremely pleased to bring another case to justice as part of our ongoing battle to crack down on rogue landlords.”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Tenants in flat-shares lose their living rooms as landlords make the most of space

Tenants in shared houses are facing the end of the sitting room for Generation Rent, as landlords increasingly convert every possible space into bedrooms.

According to The Times, analysis of room rentals on house and flat sharing portals found that just one third of properties have communal space.

In London, only one-tenth of flat-shares have communal space such as a lounge.

The Times says that even upmarket properties in exclusive postcodes are being turned into bedsits, with landlords turning reception rooms into bedrooms.

The Times also says that some conversions result in tiny bedrooms, and that some conversions ignore Building Regulations and are potentially unsafe.

It also says that illegal bedsits are being advertised with impunity online, including on one property website that has received taxpayer funding to help it grow.

The Times also says that some bedsits are in HMO properties which should be licensed, but are not, pointing out that licensing is mandatory for rental properties with five or more unrelated sharers.

The paper analysed 100 rooms offered in five-bedroom properties on the most popular house-share website and found that only 12% were registered as approved HMOs.

Susie Crolla, of the Guild of Letting & Management, described the figures as “shocking but not that surprising”.

The Times says that the biggest website, Spareroom, does not routinely check whether its rooms are legally compliant or are in a property with an HMO licence.

However Spareroom told the paper that checking every property is not straightforward because there is no central database and each council holds the information differently.

The Times investigation also highlights Spotahome, whose chief operating officer is a founder of Uber.

The Times says: “The website does not allow prospective tenants to view rooms, instead posting pictures and videos online. Nor does it check whether homes have a licence.

“In one case, it was listing a 49 sq m, two-bed flat that had been converted into a five-bed. Every bedroom was smaller than the minimum allowed. One was 4.92 sq m, little bigger than a double bed. The illegal conversion had been visited and ‘approved’ by a Spotahome checker.

“In 2015, the taxpayer-backed British Business Bank invested £17.5m in a venture capital fund called Passion Capital, which used part of the money to invest in Spotahome.com.”

The Times also quotes an un-named traditional letting agent who said he had reported half a dozen unlicensed HMOs to several councils six months ago but had heard nothing back.

He said: “These homes are not difficult to spot, they are brazenly advertised online. The failure of councils to enforce the rules is allowing these landlords to get away with it and is making the job of diligent agents much harder.”

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Wrexham lettings agent and landlord prosecuted by council over HMO regulation breach

A private landlord in Wrexham has been prosecuted by Wrexham Council for operating an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO).

At Mold Magistrates Court yesterday, landlord Jane Sabio – who had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing – was fined £5,000, with costs of £1,697 and a £170 victim surcharge also imposed.

An officer from the council’s Environmental Health and Housing Standards team found the unlicensed HMO during an inspection following up on a complaint due to lack of repairs.

Letting agents Countrywide, trading as Beresford Adams, also pleaded guilty to a number of breaches at the same property, including inadequate fire safety measures and failing to supply an electrical safety certificate to Wrexham Council.

In sentencing at Wrexham Magistrates Court earlier this month, Countrywide was fined a total of £22,500, plus a £107 victim surcharge and £2,819 costs.

Cllr Hugh Jones, lead member for communities, partnerships, public protection and community safety, said: “The council is proactively working with landlords and letting agents to assist them in raising standards for tenants.

“But if they choose not to cooperate and not to comply with the legal requirements, we will have no hesitation in taking firm enforcement action, as this case demonstrates.”

Wrexham Council say: “Most landlords and letting agents ensure HMOs are properly licensed and maintained, but if your landlord or letting agent fails to acquire an HMO licence or carry out the necessary repairs and make adequate fire safety arrangements, you can contact the Environmental Health and Housing Standards team by e-mail at HealthandHousing@wrexham.gov.uk or on 01978 292040.

“We keep a list of currently licensed HMOs on our website, and also provide information on what an HMO is, and how they can be licensed.”

Source: Wrexham

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Appeal launched over refusal of plans to increase rooms at Wrexham HMO

An appeal has been launched after a bid to increase the number of bedrooms at a house in multiple occupation (HMO) near Wrexham town centre was turned down.

Landlord Arran Pritchard applied to Wrexham Council in January to up the amount of bedrooms at a property on Poplar Road from six to seven.

However, the local authority issued a decision to reject the proposals after planning officers said there were not enough parking spaces outside.

Mr Pritchard has now submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in an attempt to have the outcome overturned.

In documents entered to support his case, he claimed most people living in HMOs don’t own a car, meaning the small increase would not cause a problem.

Highlighting a survey of the number of vehicles owned by tenants across the 23 properties he lets in the town, he said: “Here attached are two “vehicles per room” assessments, conducted in September 2015 and May 2016.

“They show that for 146 rooms/ occupants, there are just 17 to 25 occupants with vehicles, or one vehicle for every five rooms.

“This is largely due to all the rooms being in the town centre and tenants generally not being able to afford a vehicle.

“The planning application is to increase the number of rooms by the minimum possible, from six rooms to seven rooms. A comparable planning application, refusal, and successful appeal is the planning case for 33 Park Street, Wrexham.”

Mr Pritchard previously attempted to increase the total number of bedrooms at the property to eight but permission was denied on similar grounds.

Despite appealing the decision on the original application, a planning inspector appointed by the Welsh Government agreed with the council’s views.

In her decision notice, Siân Worden said she felt the proposals would impact on the safety of drivers at a busy junction.

She said: “The appeal property is in a busy area where there are widespread parking restrictions and many of the dwellings do not have off-street parking. There thus appears to be a high demand for on-street spaces.

“The proposed development would result in a small increase in the number of vehicles requiring parking spaces in the vicinity.

“Even so, it would increase the hazard on the local road network, and reduce its efficient use, by resulting in more drivers searching for a parking space.”

Mr Pritchard’s latest appeal will considered at a future date.

By Liam Randall

Source: Wrexham

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HMO Sector To Grow As Investors Expand Property Portfolios

New data released has shown that the HMO sector is likely to grow with over a fifth of landlords planning to expand their portfolio with the addition of an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation).

The HMO sector is proving to be attractive to professional landlords in a time of market uncertainty, with HMO landlords achieving the highest average rental yields at 6.3 per cent compared with the market average of 5.5 per cent.

The research from specialist lender Precise Mortgages shows average rental yields across the market as a whole are at their lowest for nine years, highlighting the attraction of the HMO sector. Average yields for all property types dropped 0.3 per cent in the second quarter from 5.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year and are now at their lowest level since 2010.

Terraced houses are proving to be the most popular choice for buy to let property investors, with 50 per cent of landlords planning to buy a terraced property. However, the research also shows 40 per cent of landlords also plan to sell terraced houses in the year ahead. By contrast, just 8 per cent of landlords holding properties in the HMO sector plan to sell them.

Blocks of flats are also set for growth, with 8 per cent of landlords planning to buy compared with just 5 per cent planning to sell.

Landlords with between 11 and 19 properties are earning the highest average yields at 5.9 per cent with the North West the best area of the UK for yields, earning an average 5.9 per cent. Landlords with 11 or more properties have an average of three different property types in their portfolio.

Managing Director of Precise Mortgages, Alan Cleary, said: ‘In a time of market uncertainty, HMOs are an attractive option for professional landlords looking to maximise yields. As HMOs attract multiple tenancies, gross rental income tends to outstrip single lets meaning the rental income is more secure if one tenant leaves a void.’

He continued: ‘The expansion of the HMO sector underlines how experienced landlords are re-balancing their portfolios. It also demonstrates the opportunity for brokers to work with specialist lenders who have expertise across the widest product set to support clients who are reassessing their portfolios.’

Source: Residential Landlord

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HMO landlord in Birmingham hit with £2,000 penalty

A landlord has been hit with a £2,000 penalty for fire safety breaches at a two-storey property housing nine people in a landmark case for Birmingham City Council.

Officers visited the house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Small Heath in November and found there to be no interlinked fire alarm, fire doors or fire blanket, and a lack of fire separation in the building.

The council stated the landlord co-operated with the investigation and swiftly completed the necessary work to a high standard meaning the penalty was reduced to £2,000 after it was originally set at a higher a figure.

The property owner is the first to be punished under new civil penalty regulations in Birmingham after the council updated its policy earlier this year.

The move gave them powers to issue penalties of up to £30,000 for offences such as overcrowding and failure to comply with management regulations.

The council said it was not allowed to provide the exact address of the Small Heath HMO or name the landlord saying the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had issued ‘strict guidance’on what information could be released.

A spokeswoman added: “The ultimate goal of civil penalties and our BCC policy is to prevent any further offending but to also help ensure that the landlord fully complies with all of their legal responsibilities in the future.”

Now, all rented buildings occupied by five or more people from two or more households require a HMO licence from the council.

A law change in October saw a three-storey threshold scrapped.

There are around 1,900 licensed HMOs in Birmingham but the council estimates there are more than 4,000 unlicensed properties.

The authority stated it is working to raise awareness of the October law change and encourage landlords to proactively apply for a licence as opposed to taking immediate enforcement action at this stage.

The council charges a £1,150 fee for a new licence application, which is typically granted for five years, with income ring-fenced to cover costs associated with issuing licences and finding other unlicensed HMOs.

While money from penalties will be spent on housing matters.

The Small Heath property was not licensed at the time of the inspection but was not penalised for this due to a three-month grace period from October for landlords to apply.

Cllr Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, said: “While there are a great many landlords who provide excellent accommodation, inevitably there are some who will only respond and make necessary improvements on threat of financial penalties or legal action.

“With that in mind, I’m delighted that the recent change in policy has improved our effectiveness and ultimately enabled us to take enforcement action against landlords who are letting substandard accommodation.

“HMO properties have a massive role to play in providing affordable housing to people in Birmingham, particularly as we are in the midst of a national housing crisis.

“However, these properties must also meet building and fire safety standards, be properly regulated, appropriately licensed and ultimately provide good quality housing for citizens who are paying a monthly rent.

“We’ll continue to work closely with the private-rented sector to ensure that people have a broad range of choice for housing in Birmingham.”

By Carl Jackson

Source: Express and Star

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Plans to increase number of residents living in HMO set for approval despite concerns of overcrowding

Plans to increase the maximum number of people that can live in a HMO on the outskirts of town have been recommended for approval, despite a series of concerns about overcrowding.

At present the house in multiple occupation at 86 Erddig Road is currently occupied by eight residents housed in eight single bedrooms

But due to the “demands for such accommodation” in the area, the applicant is seeking permission to allow the property to be let as seven double bedrooms for a maximum of 14 residents.

Next week members of the council’s planning committee will be asked to approve the plans.

However the application has been met with objection by councillor Alun Jenkins, a number of residents and the community council, who have argued that there is a lack of parking and insufficient space for tenants.

Cllr Jenkins, who has has called for the application to be refused, adds: “It cannot be acceptable either in planning or in licensing terms that what was an original four bedroomed terraced house to house fourteen people.

“The facilities within the property are barely sufficient for the present eight residents, with a single kitchen/dining room on the ground floor for all the residents, a single WC and separate shower room on the ground floor, and a single small shower/wc on the first floor.

“It would appear that there are no proposals to improve the wc/shower facilities on either the ground or first floors to cater for the six additional residents.”

He continues onto say: “This is surely not the type of residential property that we would want to be encouraging in Wrexham.

“This part of Erddig Road is at the heart of the Conservation Area, and the creation of such sub-standard housing would be completely unacceptable and out of keeping with the area.”

But the council’s Chief Officer of Planning and Regulatory, Lawrence Isted states that because the property is already occupied as a HMO it is “unnecessary to consider whether the proposals result in an over concentration of this type of accommodation.”

Addressing concerns about lack of parking, Mr Isted notes that “whilst it is accepted the property has no off-street parking spaces it is not unusual in the area”.

He continues onto say that: “Very few households living in rental accommodation in Wrexham have more than 2 vehicles, with a significant proportion of households in rental accommodation not having access to a vehicle or only have one vehicle per household.”

Mr Isted adds: “The proposal seeks to reduce the number of bedrooms from eight to seven and on the basis of the new standard the parking requirement is identical.

“The proposal will result in an up-grading of the property and will provide an opportunity to
enhance the character and appearance of the Conservation Area and preserve the areas character.

“The sustainable location reduces the requirement for occupiers to be reliant upon a car, with the property in close proximity to the main roads, bus routes, employment, access to shops and
health and community facilities.

“The property will provide general waste and garden waste bins. Open space will be provided in the 50m2 rear garden and 60m2 front garden. There is proposed cycle parking for 2 bicycles and a drying line will also be provided.”

The application will be considered for approval by planning committee members at 4pm on Monday 2nd September. The meeting will also be webcast on the Wrexham Council website.

Source: Wrexham

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Court hands agent £4,500 bill after HMO fire safety breaches

An agent has been fined £3,000 after admitting three offences relating to a House in Multiple Occupation. It was also ordered to pay £1,496 in costs plus a £120 victim surcharge.

Miller Metcalfe Estate Agents appeared at Bolton Magistrates Court, which heard how the building had two businesses on the ground floor, and a single tenant on the first floor.

When Miller Metcalfe took over the management of the second and third residential floors, this formed a second flat which was let to three more tenants.

This meant the property was reclassified as an HMO.

However, Bolton Council officers found that it did not have the fire safety measures required in an HMO. There was no fire-protected escape route, or interlinked fire alarm.

The council served an emergency prohibition order requiring the upper floor not to be used as residential accommodation. The tenants were found alternative accommodation.

In court Miller Metcalfe admitted it had not taken all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of their tenants.

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye

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Licensing specialist warns that council’s advice could land agents and landlords in trouble

A specialist on licensing schemes is warning that agents and landlords in a London borough could find themselves in breach of the law if they follow advice given by the council’s own staff.

Richard Tacagni, of consultancy London Property Licensing, says that Barking and Dagenham is giving out wrong information.

The council’s two existing licensing schemes both expire on August 31.

While it is implementing a new borough-wide selective licensing scheme on September 1, it has no replacement additional licensing scheme – although it suggests it is planning to.

Tacagni said: “Without an additional licensing scheme in place, all HMOs that fall outside the mandatory HMO licensing scheme criteria will instead need to be licensed under the council’s selective licensing scheme when individual licences expire.”

However, on the two occasions he has phoned the council’s licensing hotline to request advice on what happens when an additional licence expires, he says he has been given wrong advice.

He has been told that smaller HMOs will not need licensing from September 1, and also to wait and see if an additional licensing scheme is introduced before applying.

But Tacagni said: “Following this advice could leave landlords and letting agents in breach of the law with the risk of a criminal prosecution. They could also find themselves unable to issue a Section 21 notice of seeking possession.

“In addition, it could enable the tenants to apply for a Rent Repayment Order for the period between the old licence expiring and a new licence application being submitted.

“To remain compliant, HMO landlords with an additional licence will need to apply for either a mandatory HMO or selective licence depending on the occupancy arrangements.

“Each application needs to be submitted on or before the date that the current licence expires.”

Tacagni says that to coincide with its changes to licensing, Barking and Dagenham has raised fees substantially.

Mandatory HMO licences are up by over a third, to £1,300 for a property with five sharers.

Selective licensing fees have been hiked 78%, from £506 to £900 per property.

Tacagni says this is the highest selective licensing fee in the country, and expected to generate over £16m in fee income over the next five years.

Tacagni said: “It is important that councils provide clear, consistent and accurate information to help landlords and agents correctly interpret local licensing rules.”

The full advice is here: http://bit.ly/2YRBVmv

By ROSALIND RENSHAW

Source: Property Industry Eye